In the first half of the season, the prevailing thought was that Max Muncy was going to cool off eventually. There was no way a castoff from the Athletics was going to be one of the best hitters in the league. The Dodgers’ player development is good, but it’s not that good.
Even stranger than his performance was that it looked convincing. The BABIP always looked sustainable though. Perhaps, his first half BABIP of .281 was even a little low. His walk and strikeout rates looked good. It was hard to find a fault with him.
In the second half, Muncy’s production has fallen off a bit. He’s put up a 132 wRC+ in the second half. Muncy has been more aggressive in the second half which is definitely a side-effect of his participation in the Home Run Derby. He’s had a taste for dingers that cannot be sated. His mechanics and disciplined approach lie in ruin because of a glorified batting practice. He’s cast aside his fundamentals for wanton dinger-lust.
That isn’t true, of course. As Devan Fink wrote at the beginning of the month, if the Home Run Derby helps. Muncy is, however, walking less often and swinging at a higher rate in the second half.
On a recent episode of Effectively Wild, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out that Muncy struck out 40 percent of the time in the month. Finally, Muncy turned back to normal—except, wait. No, he didn’t, because he had an OPS over 1.000 for the month. His wRC+ for August was 173, so it was his second-best month despite him striking out nearly half the time.
He had a BABIP of .375 in August so that buoys the slugging, but he also had a hard-hit rate of 53.3 percent in August so it’s not as if he has been getting by on dinks and doinks.
That’s over just 62 plate appearances, the fewest he had in a month since April, so there’s a good chance that’s noise. But that also raises the question: why isn’t Muncy getting as much playing time?
The Dodgers are either as skeptical of Muncy as the rest of us or they just can’t find a spot to put him. Muncy is a corner infielder and he’s blocked by Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger. With the additions of Brian Dozier and Manny Machado, the Dodgers have a veritable glut of infield talent.
It’s a little strange that the Dodgers have underperformed like they have when they can’t find regular playing time for Muncy because they have too many good players. Remember Muncy has more than twice as many home runs as anyone on the Giants now that Andrew McCutchen is a Yankee.
The Dodgers likely don’t want to play the hot hand of Muncy over someone with more pedigree like Bellinger, but that’s precisely what they’re doing with Matt Kemp. Kemp had a similarly hot first half putting up a 136 wRC+ with vastly improved defense according to Statcast’s outs above average. He’s still not good at -3 OOA, but he’s not the very worst in the league either. Since the All-Star break though, he’s played more like, well, Matt Kemp. The only Dodger with a worse wRC+ in the second half is Austin Barnes, but he received three to four games’ worth of plate appearances more than Muncy in August.
It’s not as simple as put either Bellinger or Muncy in left while the other plays first except maybe it is? Muncy hasn’t played outfield regularly since 2016, but he was perfectly cromulent then, putting up a cool zero DRS over 117 innings in the outfield. That’s not a whole lot, so Bellinger who has more outfield experience would be a better option.
At present, the Dodgers find themselves without a playoff spot despite their surplus of talent. Muncy has had some troubling developments over the last month and a half, but Kemp has had troubling developments over the last five years. Granted the Dodgers’ problems haven’t been the offense, at least not directly. Still, the Dodgers need to employ every advantage they have if they want to make it to October and that includes keeping Muncy and Bellinger in the lineup.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.